A CHANCE COMMENT made during a press trip to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 sent me down the rabbit hole of world football history, and what I discovered was…. unusual. This was my first feature for VICE Sports.
EXCERPT: Nazis, Thieves, and a Dog Named Pickles: The Unsolved Mystery of the First World Cup
If everything up to this point was shades of The Maltese Falcon, what came next, in 1966, was strictly Monty Python. England was the World Cup host that year, and so the Rimet trophy was secured at the Football Association headquarters. Before the tournament began, the trophy was released for display at a stamp exhibition at Westminster Central Hall. It was held in a case and guarded by two police officers—for precisely one day. Within 24 hours, the Rimet was gone.
The head of the FA later received a parcel at his house containing the trophy’s cup lining and a ransom note demanding £15,000. He contacted the police, who cooked up a decoy payoff scheme. The drop did not go well. Before the transaction could be completed, the contact made the police van and took off on foot. He was caught and arrested, but the trophy was not recovered. A week after the theft, a dog named Pickles, out for a walk with his human in London, sniffed out an abandoned package under a bush. The Rimet was inside. Pickles enjoyed the perks of being a famous hero dog until his untimely death by choking the following year. His collar is on display at the National Football Museum in Manchester, England.
Meanwhile, the FA had jeweler George Bird produce an exact replica in case the Rimet was not recovered. With the genuine trophy back in official hands, the World Cup went ahead as planned and England earned their first win.
At the next World Cup in 1970 in Mexico City, three nations—Uruguay, Italy, and Brazil—were in a position to take their third championship and win possession of the Rimet in perpetuity. When Brazil beat Italy 4–1 in the final, a new World Cup—the one we are familiar with now—was commissioned. The Rimet went to the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation, where it was locked up in a case made of bulletproof glass—and a plywood back. Perhaps the only surprise here is that the Rimet was safe and sound for another 13 years. In 1983, it went missing for a second and final time.
The police investigation was woefully inconclusive. The most common account held that the trophy had been sold to an Argentinian gold dealer who melted it down into bars, but there was no evidence to support this and some to refute it. For one thing, the Jules Rimet trophy was not solid gold. No arrests were made. Fourteen years passed.
Title image: A replica of the Jules Rimet trophy, © FIFA Museum (used with permission)